SIL International

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SIL International
founding 1936
founder William Cameron Townsend
Seat Dallas
main emphasis Language research
Action space Worldwide
people Fredrick A. Boswell (Executive Director)

SIL International (originally: Summer Institute of Linguistics , German: "Summer Institute of Linguistics") is a Christian, scientific non-governmental organization founded in 1936 with the main goal of studying, developing and developing unknown languages with a view to expanding linguistics to document the literacy to promote and assist in the development of minority languages.

SIL is closely associated with the Wycliff Bible Translators, an organization that translates the Bible into minority languages. The organization says it has over 7,000 members in 60 countries. Their headquarters are in Dallas , Texas .

Through its " Ethnologue ", SIL has been supplying a database of the world's languages ​​since 1951, which documents its linguistic research.


The story goes back to a small study group in Arkansas in 1934 who taught missionaries basic linguistic and anthropological theories and prepared them for translation work. SIL was officially founded in 1936 by the linguist William Cameron Townsend (1896–1982), who among other things worked as a missionary in Guatemala . While doing this, Townsend recognized the importance of Bible translations into indigenous languages.

The Wycliff Bible translators emerged from the study group in 1942 . They see themselves in the sense of John Wyclif and Martin Luther as national Bible translators for broad sections of the population.

One of the most important personalities within the SIL International was Kenneth L. Pike (1912-2000), who was its president from 1942 to 1979. Fredrick A. Boswell has been Executive Director of SIL International since 2008 .

From 1950 to 1987, SIL was housed at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. After a dispute about missionary activities and the close relationship between SIL employees and military dictatorships in Latin America, the university broke away from SIL. Its center has since been located at the University of Texas at Arlington .

Contribution to research

SIL's main contribution to linguistic research is the database on over 1000 minority languages ​​and endangered languages, many of which had not previously been scientifically investigated. SIL strives to document both the empirical data and their respective analyzes and thus to expand knowledge about language.

This led to publications on languages ​​such as Hixkaryána and Pirahã , the peculiarities of which questioned some generalizations of linguistic theories. In addition, over 20,000 technical publications have appeared so far, most of which concern linguistic field research.

The SIL does not focus on developing new linguistic theories. However, Kenneth Pike developed Tagmemik (no longer supported by SIL) and coined the terms emic and etic that are common in the social sciences today.

Rather, among other things, SIL focuses on literacy, especially in native languages. SIL supports local, regional and national institutions that promote teaching in dialects and dialects. These collaborations create the prerequisites for advances in teaching in multilingual and multicultural societies.

SIL also provides teachers and teaching materials for linguistic course programs at major secondary educational institutions around the world. Developed concepts such as the LAMP method have also gained importance beyond SIL.

Interesting results of the research are documented in the "International Museum of Culture" in Dallas ( Texas ).

International recognition

The SIL has advisory status with UNESCO and the United Nations . SIL is also represented as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in many countries . SIL's work in many parts of Asia has been publicly recognized by UNESCO.

Other awards:

Missionary activity

Substantial allegations have been made about SIL International by various ethnologists, journalists and human rights groups, particularly in connection with the work in Latin America. SIL International is said to have asserted the interests of international oil companies against the indigenous peoples and undermined their culture. The Ecuadorian activist for Indian rights, Noele Krenkel, wrote in 1991: “What happens in Pastaza , Ecuador , is a typical process in the rainforests of Latin America. First, European or North American companies discover valuable mineral resources on Indian land. Then the Summer Institute of Linguistics moves into the local indigenous communities in order to undermine the culture of the indigenous people. Eventually roads are built and massive resource exploitation and rapid settlement begin. The national military is deployed to ensure that everything runs smoothly and that contradiction is nipped in the bud. ”SIL International denies these allegations.

Ethnologue and ISO 639-3

SIL International is the editor of the Ethnologue , a linguistic compilation that aims to classify and catalog the languages ​​of the world uniformly. The first Ethnologue was published in 1951 by Richard Saunders Pittman and contained information on 46 languages ​​and language families on ten mimeographed pages. The fourth edition (1953) included hand-drawn maps for the first time. The fifth edition (1958) was the first to appear as a book. Since the 14th edition, the Ethnologue has been freely accessible on the Internet; Since the 22nd edition in 2019, access is only possible against payment.

With the publication of the 15th edition of the Ethnologue in April 2005, the SIL code was aligned with the ISO / DIS-639-3 standard of the ISO 639 standard, which was then being developed . This results in new identifiers consisting of three letters for many languages. This also resulted in languages ​​that have already died out being given a SIL code. Since then, SIL International has been the official administrator of the ISO-639-3 codes for living languages, while Linguist List manages the codes for historical language varieties, ancient languages , international planned languages and artificial languages .

Some known SIL codes are listed here (in brackets the codes valid up to the 14th edition).

Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS)

Until about October 2019, the website only used the so-called "Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale" (EGIDS) for the language description; Meanwhile, a graphic representation with two dimensions, size of the language community and vitality (according to EGIDS) is also used. With regard to vitality, a distinction is made only between four levels, with which areas of the EGIDS scale are summarized (0–4; 5–6a; 6b – 9; 10).

EGIDS is a differentiated scale for assessing the vitality or endangerment of languages, which was developed and used by SIL International in the Ethnologue (Paul Lewis and Gary F. Simons, 2010). Compared to the well-known LVE scale of UNESCO with its 6 levels, EGIDS has 13 degrees. The higher the number on the scale, the more disrupted the transmission of language from the older to the younger generation.

Degree category Translation (analogous) description example
Vital languages
0 International World language The language is widely used for international communication in trade, science and politics. English
1 National National language The language is used in education, in working life, in mass media and in politics at the national level. Standard German
2 Provincial Regional language The language is used in education, in working life, in mass media and in politics in large administrative districts of a state. German in Belgium
Standard institutionalized languages
3 Against communication Linguistic or educational language The (living or dead) language is used in working life and in the mass media without the status of an official language in order to bridge language differences between different regions. Russian in Ukraine
4th Educational supported school language The language is standardized, there is literature in this language. However, their dynamic use and maintenance is based on intensive support by a special education system. Upper Sorbian
5 Developing (based on the language) consistent written language There is literature in a standardized form of this language and it is still used dynamically by some people, but only in a very limited area and not necessarily sustainably. Swabian
5 Dispersed (based on a country) marginal "border language" The language is standardized, there is literature in this language and it is still used dynamically by local minorities who live near a neighboring country with a different language. Danish in Germany
Minority languages
* Currently safe
6a Vigorous common The language is used for direct communication within all generations and the situation is sustainable. Kölsch
* Threatened
6b Threatened endangered Language is used for direct communication within all generations, but its meaning is dwindling. Valais German in Switzerland
7th Shifting inconsistent The generation of childbearing potential can use the language among themselves, but it is rarely passed on to children. North Frisian
8a Moribund dying out The only active speakers are members of the grandparents' generation or older. East Frisian
8b Nearly Extinct almost extinct The only remaining speakers are members of the grandparents' generation or older; but even with them the importance is noticeably dwindling. Wilmesaurisch in Wilamowice (Poland)
Extinct languages
9 Dormant (related to the language) inactive There are no more speakers. The language serves as a reminder of cultural heritage for the identity of an ethnic community, but no one has more than symbolic knowledge. Welsh Romani in Wales
9 Reawakening (based on an ethnic group) reactivated Reactivation - more precisely: revitalization - describes the attempt of active revival as a second language by an ethnic group. Cornish in Cornwall
9 Second language only (based on one country) only second language The language has always been used as a second lingua franca and has now become extinct in this country. Polari , language of the " traveling people " in England
10 Extinct extinguished The language is no longer used. Nobody associates a feeling of ethnic identity with language anymore.

The EGIDS levels combine the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS) according to Joshua Fishman (1991) and the LVE model from UNESCO. Like GIDS, EGIDS is essentially based on the inheritance of languages ​​and also uses the classification from level 0 to 10 - but with two more differentiated subdivisions of grades 6 and 8, respectively into a and b. In addition, level 5 has an alternative category ( dispersed ) and level 9 has two alternatives ( reawakening and only second language ). This should make it possible, for example, to correctly classify languages ​​that may develop more positively through revitalization .

The current language status as well as further information on all languages ​​in the world are continuously compiled from a variety of different sources and can be queried online at any time via the website . EGIDS is considered by experts to be more detailed and precise than the other models.

Importance for Wikipedia

The Wikimedia Foundation only accepts applications for new language versions of its projects, including Wikipedia, if these language versions have a valid ISO-639 code.

See also

  • Graphite , a free “Smartfont” technology developed by SIL


  • Ruth Margaret Brend, Kenneth Lee Pike (Eds.): The Summer Institute of Linguistics: Its Works and Contributions ; Walter De Gruyter 1977; ISBN 90-279-3355-3 .
  • Gerard Colby, Charlotte Dennett: Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil ; HarperCollins 1995; ISBN 0-06-016764-5 .
  • John Perkins : Confessions of an Economic Hit Man ; Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2004; ISBN 1-57675-301-8 .
  • W. A. ​​Willibrand: Oklahoma Indians and the Summer Institute of Linguistics ; 1953
  • Soren Hvalkof, Peter Aaby (Ed.): Is God an American? An Anthropological Perspective on the Missionary Work of the Summer Institute of Linguistics ; A Survival International Document ; Copenhagen: IWGIA [International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs]. London: SI, 1981; ISBN 87-980717-2-6 .
  • Eni Pucinelli Orlandi: Language, Faith, Power: Ethics and Language Policy / Language, Faith, Power: Ethics and Language Policy. In: Brigitte Schlieben-Lange (Hrsg.): Journal for Literary Studies and Linguistics 116; Catechesis, language, writing; University of Siegen / JB Metzler 1999. Discourse analysis on the work of SIL.
  • Laurie K. Hart: The Story of the Wycliffe Translators: Pacifying the Last Frontiers. In: NACLA's Latin America & Empire Report , Volume 7, No. 10 (1973). On SIL's collaboration with US oil companies and military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Michael Erard: How Linguists and Missionaries Share a Bible of 6,912 Languages. In: New York Times, July 19, 2005 issue.
  • Norman Lewis: The Missionaries. About the destruction of other cultures. An eyewitness report. Klett-Cotta 1991; ISBN 3-608-95312-4 .

Web links

SIL pages

Criticism of SIL

Individual evidence

  1. Fredrick A. Boswell on (accessed June 14, 2013)
  2. ^ Endangered Language Groups
  3. see SILs Ethnologue Bibliography
  4. Linguistics fieldwork in SIL
  5. About SIL International
  6. ^ The International Museum of Cultures
  7. APPEAL: SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) International
  8. 1973 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for International Understanding - Summer Institute of Linguistic.
  9. Handbook of Texas Online - Summer Institute of Linguistic.
  10. ^ Evangelical Protestants in Venezuela: Robertson Only The Latest Controversy In a Long and Bizarre History ; Contribution to Council on Hemispheric Affairs of September 19, 2005. Also the books by Perkins and Colby / Dennet.
  11. oil Full Krenkel: Oil Companies Threaten Indian communities and Amazon ; on September 9, 1991
  12. SIL: SIL Responds to Errors in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man , Nov. 2005
  13. History of the Ethnologue on (accessed June 14, 2013)
  14. See Dutch (October 23, 2019) and English (October 26, 2019)
  15. See Esperanto as an example
  16. ^ Language status . In:, accessed September 2, 2015.
  17. a b Susanne Mayer: Language politics in Hawai'i: Is Hawaiian a language that is dying out? (PDF) Institute for Linguistics, University of Vienna, pp. 76–77; accessed on March 5, 2019
  18. Elena Mihas, Bernard Perley, Gabriel Rei-Doval and Kathleen Wheatley (eds.): Responses to Language Endangerment. In honor of Mickey Noonan. New directions in language documentation and language revitalization. John Benjamin Publishing: Amsterdam & Philadelphia 2013. ISBN 978-90-272-0609-1 , pp. 9 f.
  19. ^ Requisites for eligibility. In: Wikimedia website .